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Expert: 'Whiplash' between wet season and drought is toppling historic trees in Minneapolis

'Whiplash' between wet season and drought is toppling historic trees in Minneapolis
'Whiplash' between wet season and drought is toppling historic trees in Minneapolis 02:06

MINNEAPOLIS – Trees are dying in Minneapolis' historic Loring Park. 

The first tree toppled in August. Shortly after, another one was gone. On Sunday, a third was slated to be scrapped. 

Professor Lee Frelich has an unfortunate hypothesis.

"They're dying all over the city," Frelich said. "A really old tree can't make those shifts."

Frelich serves as the president for a local neighborhood organization, and he also is considered one of the top 1% of scientists in the world. Currently, he serves as the director of forest ecology at the University of Minnesota. So when trees started dying in nearby Loring Park, he started looking closely for a reason why.

"We're starting to see impacts from climate change on trees in Minnesota," he said.

RELATED: Extreme drought conditions reported in Twin Cities, SW Minnesota

The first tree to die was a Bur Oak that Frelich estimated to be around 300 years old, putting the start of its existence before the founding of the city itself.

"People think that something this permanent will always be there," he said.


While he admits old trees often die, Frelich says this one wasn't at the end of its life. Rather, drought conditions in 2021 and 2022, sandwiched around an incredibly wet season, was too much for it to handle.

"I think there's whiplash going back and forth from extreme wet to extreme dry," he said. "2017, 18 and 19, we just had incredible amounts of rain. And then all of a sudden in 2021 and 2022, we have these incredibly deep droughts. A really old tree can't make those shifts."

Frelich, along with climatologist Pete Boulay, argue the current drought in the Twin Cities are compacting on dry conditions from the previous year.

"We never fully recovered from the 2021 drought, so this drought is building on what happened last year," Boulay said. "Lakes are going down. [Lake] Minnetonka is the lowest it's been in 10 years, White Bear Lake is the lowest it's been in six years, so we're just kind of compounding issues as we go further and further along."

"The drought redeveloped," Frelich said. "I knew the trees hadn't recovered from the drought earlier in the summer and they hadn't even recovered from last summer's drought yet."

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